Please Help My Students

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Please Help My Students

Postby bmerklin on Wed May 28, 2014 5:12 am

I was pointed here from a Geocacher on reddit, and I'm not sure if I'm posting this in the right place, but I'm looking for help.

I'm a high school astronomy teacher from south of Pittsburgh. My students wanted to attempt a high altitude balloon launch as their year end project. This was the first time any of us attempted a project like this, and on Monday we were able to launch successfully, the balloon and payload soared into the sky.
The recovery however did not go so well, we traveled in the anticipated direction and waited to regain our GPS signal, but it never came. I've uploaded an album with screen shots for our projected landing zone, but the wind conditions and descent speed were only estimates, it could be anywhere between Morgantown and Deep Creek MD.

http://imgur.com/a/aX824#0

I don't know if any of you frequent/hike/camp the area shown in the images, but if you do, could you please keep your eyes open? Its a medium sized styrofoam cooler, covered in blaze orange tape. It has my contact number on it. In all likelihood, its probably stuck up in a tree. Please, any information you could provide to help us locate it would mean the world to my students. It was very difficult seeing their excitement and optimism fade away as more and more time passed by without a signal.

Thank you!
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Re: Please Help My Students

Postby Tall_Couple on Thu May 29, 2014 5:39 pm

Between Morgantown, WV and Deep Creek, MD??! Ooof... Those are pretty big error bars considering we in the geocaching community are used to something more like 10-20 feet. Looking at the map that you've provided a link for, are you saying that you expect the payload to be inside the pink circle? How did you determine this boundary line and do you have any more information? I'm assuming the green dot shows your last point of contact and you have no way of re-establishing a satellite connection. Do you happen to know the payload's altitude at the last point of contact? From a "search and rescue" point of view, this sounds really interesting, but I'm wondering if you can provide a little more information.

Cheers,
Joe
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Re: Please Help My Students

Postby bmerklin on Thu May 29, 2014 8:55 pm

Unfortunately I have no more specific data, the maps I've shown are from a simulator ran prior to the launch that pulled weather information and our flight parameters (ascent speed, burst altitude, descent speed) and came up with a predicted flight path. The Pink area was determined by entering values for those parameters within our measurement error. The green dot was simply our predicted landing location, and nothing more As you can see slight variations in parameters lead to a wide margin of area when you're talking about the winds aloft and time that balloon is subject to drift.

Unfortunately we are not getting any transmissions from the tracker. We "should" get a signal from our GPS tracker if it has a view of the sky and is jostled enough to trigger the motion sensor. Though apparently the landing was not rough enough to trigger that motion sensor. Neither have been the thunderstorms that have gone through the area the last couple days.

I want to be clear here, I'm not asking you guys to actively track this down. If I had more specific data, I and my students would be out there zeroing in on it. I'm just trying to (slightly) improve our odds by making as many people aware as possible. If people are active in the area, and know about the payload box, maybe we'll get lucky and someone might spot it, and be able to relay information.

Thanks for taking the time to think it about it though!
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Re: Please Help My Students

Postby egroeg on Thu May 29, 2014 9:21 pm

The burst altitude shown on the simulation is 26000 meters (>85,000 feet). Would your payload have survived a descent from that altitude? Or was the descent controlled?
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Re: Please Help My Students

Postby Tall_Couple on Fri May 30, 2014 5:21 am

The burst altitude shown on the simulation is 26000 meters (>85,000 feet). Would your payload have survived a descent from that altitude? Or was the descent controlled?


I could be wrong, but it looked like there was a parachute attached based on the pictures that OP put up.

Assuming the descent was controlled, what was the descent speed? Have you done a balloon launch like this before and (if so) how accurate is the predicted landing position. Perhaps another way of asking this: how confident are you that the payload is actually inside the pink circle? Presumably you put the flight parameters you mentioned (ascent speed, burst altitude, descent speed) into an algorithm that predicted a landing position; what were the values of these parameters? How big/heavy is the box? Do the GPS trackers have a history of malfunctioning, or is it likely the box dropped in a river and became waterlogged?
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